A Festival of Music

Violinist and Artistic Director Atis Bankas.

The Link, Autumn 2017
| by Sharon Harrison |

Robert Wright describes it as “a feast of classical and jazz music” and is clearly proud of the festival he put together just a couple of years ago in the small church in the little village he once called home. Stirlingfest saw a very successful inaugural year in 2016 in what is best described as “an annual festival of classical and jazz music from some of the finest musicians in the world.”

“…a feast of classical and jazz music…”

Held over three days on the weekend after Thanksgiving, the performances deliver on talent, composition, technicality and exceptionality. The small but significant historic, stone church of St. John’s hosts both the Friday evening and Sunday afternoon performances. Wright describes the charming edifice as “a lovely, stone structure built in 1860.” He adds, “It was designed by Dominion of Canada architect Thomas Fuller who subsequently went on to design the initial Parliament of Canada buildings in Ottawa, of which only the original library survives today [after a fire destroyed the rest of the buildings in 1916].”

A retired Anglican priest, Wright called Stirling home for 12 years prior to moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1998. Stirling was “a wonderful place to raise two kids, a very warm and caring community.” Wright is now retired and lives with his wife, Patti, north of Madoc.

Guido Basso on trumpet at Jazz Night

Friday night is opening night and forms one of two classical portions of the festival. “We have invited Matthieu Latreille and Francine Nguyen-Savaria, organists at St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in Belleville, to play the Gabriel Kney pipe organ in the first half. The Gould String Quartet with violinist and artistic director Atis Bankas will be featured in the second half,” adds Wright.

Saturday night is jazz night! The jazz element of the festival is always well-received and this year moves to the slightly larger location of St. Paul’s United Church just a few minutes away. The evening performance includes a returning line-up featuring Guido Basso, who will be joining three other players including John Sherwood on piano, Dave Young on bass and Brian Barlow, drums. Wright explains, “St. Paul’s [which dates back to 1882] has a musical tradition of its own having hosted the Stirling Festival of Praise for over 50 years. The church is a lovely venue with a fine Yamaha grand piano and great acoustics.”

Sunday afternoon is classical and introduces the audience to music from the Romantic era with pianist Victoria Kogan who will be accompanied in the second half by the Gould String Quartet.

Former CBC radio broadcaster Eric Friesen will be hosting the festival. Wright talks about how “It’s an important part of the concert because not everyone is into classical and we really want to welcome them to it. Eric does a great job so that we feel comfortable in learning about classical music.”

A reception follows each performance where audience members can interact with the musicians and “talk to them as real, live human beings.” Wright calls this the fun part of the evening and considers it to be “a really important component as it is a celebration of all things Hastings. People are invited to sample the local fare, a glass of wine or craft beer, apples, cheese; what Hastings County is famous for.”

The young festival, now in its second year, is expected to grow and prosper as it evolves in the coming years. For Wright, it is not about making money – any profits go to St. John’s – but to simply bring world-class musical entertainment to small-town Ontario for all to enjoy whether music aficionado, ardent jazz fan, casual listener or first-time festival-goer.

Stirlingfest takes place Friday, October 13, 7:30 pm and Sunday, October 15, 3 pm at St. John’s Anglican Church, 73 North Street, Stirling. Saturday, October 14, 7:30 pm at St. Paul’s United Church, 104 Church Street, Stirling. For further information and details of the full line-up, visit stirlingfest.com or call 613-398-7573.